FOLLOWING IN STEPS OF TRAVIS LONG, STEVE GLEASON
CHRIS RUBIO, who has made a career out of tutoring long snappers, still recalls the first time Gonzaga Prep's Jerred Sonneborn drove down the highway from Spokane to Lewiston for a private lesson. He saw an overweight, unathletic high school sophomore who had no business taking the field for special teams' play.
Two years later, while on an official visit to a Pac-12 school, that same young man verbally committed to Mike Leach and Washington State. He will join the program as an invited walk on, eschewing scholarship opportunities from smaller schools.
Two summers ago, Sonneborn arrived at Rubio's Lewiston home with a seeming mountain to climb. Rubio, a long snapper at UCLA in the 1990s, worked with the then-290-pounder that day for only a short period of time and gave it to him straight.
"I told him he needed to lose some weight," Rubio. "He needed to slim down. When I first met him, he looked very much like a big offensive lineman. He shed those pounds, though, and that's not easy during high school. It took him about a year or two, but he lost the weight the right way. He's a very thick 250 right now."
Jerred Sonneborn played on the offensive line for G-Prep this season in addition to his long- snapping duties. He was named second-team All-GSL at center.
Scholarship offers from Weber State and Carroll College followed. He also held a walk on offer from Idaho.
However, the Spokane product was in Pullman this weekend for his official visit and indeed gave his verbal pledge to the Cougs as a preferred walk on. The 6-2, 250-pound senior texted CF.C letting us know he wasn't available for comment today because of family obligations, but confirmed he'll be a Coug next season.
"Yes, I committed to Washington State," he said.
So what kind of athlete are the Cougs getting in Sonneborn?
He's a great talent, who has great size," Rubio said. "He's big and thick and has been improving in the two years I've been working with him. He also has great work ethic. When you tell Jerred to do something, you can expect it to get done. Now that he's done with high school football, it will give him the opportunity to focus on his long snapping and it will allow him to increase his potential even more."
As for Rubio, he has plenty of experience training long snappers. He played for the Bruins in the mid-90s, but unfortunately a back injury prevented him from pursuing his NFL dreams. He started the Rubio Long Snapping camp 11 years ago, which travels across the country. Rubio recalls his first camp had eight athletes attend. At his most recent camp in Las Vegas two week ago, 180 prospects were on hand. Rubio had 75 long snappers go to college last year and 20 this year.
Past Long snappers who have received Rubio's instruction include current Cougs Alex Den Bleyker (freshman) and Ryan Saparto (redshirt sophomore).
With all his experience, Rubio has seen countless athletes come and go. There's one thing in particular that stands out when it comes to Sonneborn.
"Definitely his coachability and his attitude," Rubio said. "A lot of teenagers I've worked with hear me, but they don't listen. He listens and you can tell. He's a unique athlete and if he can improve his athleticism, confidence and consistency, he'll improve and help out the Cougars that much quicker."
Consistency on the long snapping front is certainly something special teams coach Eric Russell is hoping to build next season. From the 2012 season, Cougar fans are still attempting to shake the nightmarish performance in WSU's 44-36 loss to UCLA on Nov. 10. During that game, the Cougs had two field goals blocked, one of which was returned for a touchdown. The Cougs also had two punts blocked during that game.
The importance of having a consistent long snapper can often be overlooked and it's an area Sonneborn is tirelessly working on to improve. Rubio added that with Russell's guidance, coupled with Sonneborn's drive and determination, there's little doubt the newest Coug can be Pac-12 ready in no time.
"Long snapping is like a golf swing," Rubio said. "If you have minor issues, it can cause major issues. Jerred is working hard on improving his consistency and it's a focus of his. I think he'll develop that consistency in no time."